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Biological Sciences
We perform Biological Systems Science research using prediction and experimentation to understand the design of biological systems, translating the genome to functional capabilities for applications to energy, environment, and health. Microbial community research at PNNL is focusing on environment and energy processes, and rational design and development of new bioprocesses, while our health-related research is centering on how multicellular systems, tissues and organisms respond to disease and exposure to the environment.

Geologic CO2 Sequestration Inhibits Microbial Growth

A recent study at PNNL used a novel combination of techniques to reveal how carbon dioxide (CO2) injections—a process that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere—could affect sulfate-reducing bacteria that catalyze a key biogeochemical process in the deep subsurface. Ultimately, these findings offer an insight into the effects of CO2 sequestration on indigenous microbial populations, and could lead to new strategies for improving the success of CO2 sequestration, thereby helping to reduce climate change.

New Assay Platform Detects Largest Number of Known Biotoxins Simultaneously

The largest panel of biotoxins to be simultaneously detected to date has been achieved using an assay platform developed by scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) microarray simultaneously detected 10 plant and microbial toxins in buffer and clinical and environmental samples. These included ricin, botulinum neurotoxins (BoNT), shiga (STX), and staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB). Previously, the largest number of toxins to be simultaneously detected has been six.

"Most assays to detect toxins target one or two toxins at a time, at best. In the event of a bioterrorist attack, it may not be obvious which agent was released, although this knowledge is critical for delivering appropriate medical treatment," said biologist Susan Varnum, who led the study, which appears in Analyst.

2014 Key Accomplishments

2014 Key Scientific Accomplishments Report Now Available

The 2014 Key Scientific Accomplishments report in fundamental and computational sciences is now available as a downloadable PDF. This 32-page full-color brochure highlights some of the year's most noteworthy science achievements by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists.

Bill Cannon portrait

Bill Cannon to Serve on Editorial Board for Scientific Reports

Congratulations to Dr. William Cannon, head of the computational biology group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who was invited to serve as an Editorial Board Member for Scientific Reports, a new open-source journal from Nature Publishing Group. Scientific Reports' impact factor is ranked one below PNAS, Nature Communications, Science, and Nature in the multidisciplinary science category. As a board member, Cannon will use his research expertise to assess manuscripts, manage their peer review, and make final editorial decisions.

As Light Dims and Food Sources Are Limited, Key Changes in Proteins Occur in Cyanobacteria

Using a targeted chemical biology approach, scientists at PNNL identified an important subset consisting of more than 300 proteins in Synechococcus, a bacterium adept at converting carbon dioxide into other molecules of interest to energy researchers. These proteins are involved in generating macromolecule synthesis and carbon flux through central metabolic pathways and may also be involved in cell signaling and response mechanisms. The team's results suggest potential metabolic engineering targets for redirecting carbon toward biofuel precursors.

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